Supreme Court declines to block abortion for Missouri inmate

WASHINGTON (AP) – The Supreme Court cleared the way Monday for a Missouri prison inmate to terminate her pregnancy.

Although the high court made no sweeping rendering on the constitutionality of the Roe v. Wade ruling ensuring a woman’s constitutional right to an abortion, it effectively enforced a lower court ruling that Missouri Department of Corrections must provide transportation for the woman to have the procedure by refusing to hear an appeal. It was unclear how soon the abortion would be carried out.

Late Friday, Justice Clarence Thomas had granted a temporary stay to the state, which prevented the woman from having an abortion on Saturday. But Monday’s high court action was unanimous.

Abortion has been a divisive issue at the Supreme Court and an emotional subject in the confirmation of President Bush’s picks for the court.

“I am extremely disappointed in the Supreme Court’s decision. The decision is highly offensive to traditional Missouri values and is contrary to state law, which prohibits taxpayer dollars from being spent to facilitate abortions,” Gov. Matt Blunt said in a statement.

Missouri’s law forbids spending tax dollars to facilitate an abortion, but the federal judge took the position that the prison system in Missouri was blocking her from exercising that right. Thomas’ stay had temporarily blocked the ruling by U.S. District Judge Dean Whipple.

The state attorney general’s office said Monday morning that it just learned of the decision and was informing the Department of Corrections, but had no other comment.

The department said it would follow the court’s order that the procedure be allowed but didn’t yet know the practical details of when or how that might occur.

“We’re a law enforcement agency. If we’re compelled by the courts to do something, we’re going to follow the law,” corrections spokesman John Fougere said.

The woman has not been identified. She is represented by the American Civil Liberties Union, which said in court papers that she is running out of time because she is 16 weeks to 17 weeks pregnant, and Missouri bars abortions after 22 weeks.

“Today, they said no more delay. It confirmed that a woman doesn’t give up her right to terminate a pregnancy once she walks in a prison,” said Talcott Camp, one of the ACLU lawyers.

She has said she will borrow money for the abortion from friends and family but cannot afford to pay for transportation to a clinic to have it done.

The court fight was over those costs, estimated at $350 plus fuel for two guards to accompany the woman on the 80-mile trip from her cell in Vandalia to a St. Louis clinic.

Under a policy adopted over the summer, Missouri’s prison system does not provide transportation or security for inmates seeking abortions. State officials argued that the policy is reasonable because of the costs and security risks of transporting inmates for procedures the officials said are not medically necessary.

In court papers, the woman said she discovered she was pregnant shortly after being arrested in California in July on a Missouri parole violation. She said she tried to get an abortion in California but was transferred back to Missouri before it could be performed.

The Supreme Court’s action came in a brief order and did not address the merits of the case. Justices are hearing arguments later this fall in an abortion case, involving a challenge to a parental notification law.

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